By Anush Dashtents
A controversial commission on broadcasting gave on Tuesday air frequencies to three private television and radio companies in the second in a series of biddings that have raised concerns about press freedom in Armenia.
The three broadcasters had used the frequencies before the tender and thus had their broadcasting licenses extended for seven more years. The presidentially appointed National Commission on Television and Radio, which decided in April to pull the plug on the independent A1+ channel, said they faced no competition.
One of the winners is the Hayrenik (Fatherland) TV whose programming is mainly designed for children. It is owned by tobacco magnate Hrant Vartanian, one of the country’s richest men. The two others are a TV company in the country’s third-largest city of Vanadzor and a FM radio station in Yerevan.
By contrast, A1+, which was often critical of the authorities, faced tough competition from two companies with reported links to the government. One of them, Sharm, was awarded the frequency amid allegations that President Robert Kocharian used the tender to silence A1+.
The commission’s chairman, Grigor Amalian, has consistently denied the allegations, rejecting domestic and international criticism for stripping A1+ of its frequency. Amalian, who used to work as deputy chief of Kocharian’s staff, on Tuesday downplayed a recent report by a Vienna-based media office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticizing the outcome of the April bidding.
Amalian told RFE/RL that the report is biased and based mainly on accounts given by the A1+ staff and the Armenian opposition.